Tag Archives: uk hip-hop

2PAC’S LEATHER VEST

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I was perplexed to see a Tweet of mine rise from the dead the other day as part of a hip-hop controversy. That’s hip-hop controversy in the 2013 sense, where it’s not particularly controversial and no diss records will ever manifest. I’m fully conscious of most of my mouth running and rarely guilty for a moment’s brain flatulence and 30 seconds of thumbing, just because it’s out of timeline out of mind within 48 hours. A few years back, when Bossip ran something about fetuses, miscarriages and Joe Budden and some ex-flame I remarked that I preferred fictional misogynists from the worlds of TV and cinema to Budden — namely Trevor from EastEnders and his psychotic gravy pouring and the guy that rams a grapefruit half in his wife’s face in Superman III. Mr Action Bronson retweeted it and I was amused to see a Queens MC acknowledge a BBC soap opera reference. Some guy found it, and retweeted that 2011 Tweet as part of a project to remind rappers of their forgotten disses from when their follow counts were in the very low thousands. Thankfully, I’m not an MC and I still stand by my opinion (maybe I’ll put out a mixture one day and this will come back to haunt me). Still, there’s definitely a cautionary tale regarding the digital trail you leave every day. Salutes to Bronson for being a man and not panic deleting his retweets.

That, my friends, is what passes for rap beef nowadays. Only Chicago’s rap scene seems to have managed to merge greasy social media talk with actual bodily harm. Nobody’s going to commission a Lynn Hirschberg cover story on some guys calling each other lame and then blaming the fact that they were in their mid-twenties and high when they did it. I’ve never been able to ascertain what’s more amazing in that cover photo — Suge’s Piru-red suit, or ‘Pac’s strange mix of bulletproof vest looking leather corset that looks like a relic of the California Love video shoot, giant jeans, Moschino belt and what looks like some quasi-formal riding boots on his feet. It was a testament to Shakur’s post-jail swagger that he pulls it off.

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On the subject of New York’s greatest magazine cover shoots, this one from New York Magazine (some fairly early graffiti coverage) on the tagging epidemic stays gold too.

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Earlier this week, I got to ask Tinker Hatfield about how he actually went from architect to shoe designer. I need to see the slimline Euro-centric motor scooter shoe that doubled as a runner that he presented to Peter Moore.

On these shores, rappers used to be dressers before UK hip-hop (a frequent struggle in recent years) span off into different strains — the guys still wearing the faded Carhartt garms they were given for an Austrian tour a few years back, the guys in their tracksuit/AF1 combo and the handful of guys who made some money and get called “well-dressed” solely because they’re not the former. I hope the indiegogo campaign funded Unstoppable: The Roots of Hip-Hop in London showcases some unseen footage that proves our dudes used to be able to style it with our Yankee counterparts back in the day.

HEAVYWEIGHTS

Two of my heavyweight heroes have passed this week, and it breaks my heart. The retrospective reels depicting Joe Frazier’s greatness are a stark contrast to the sorry state of the heavyweight division these days (though Kirkland and Angulo’s Super Welterweight bout at the weekend was a throwback to a happier time). Anybody blinded by Ali-mania and some salty exchanges of words is a clown. Frazier’s vicious style and heavy hitting makes him a god. It’s a tragedy that he seemed to spend the last few years of his life in a different place to a formerly demonised Ali opponent like George Foreman who came out the other side (after a period of depression) a happy human being. This 1973 Playboy interview is worth a read ahead of any eulogies and the forthcoming documentary ‘When the Smoke Clears’ about Joe, Philly and the closure of his gym is promising too.



Then there’s Heavy D.

It was surreal watching the onetime Overweight Lover on Westwood.tv, pondering the excellence of ‘Blue Funk’ and thinking about how ‘You Can’t See What I Can See’ was up there with ‘Dwyck’ in the b-side stakes, only to hear of his passing. Hip-hop loves to wail and shout “whyyyyyyy?” to the heavens via social media and rap tribute during any passing, but Heavy D deserves a substantial mourning period — see that Drake album that’s been weeping salty tears from your iPhone screen since monday? That mix of macho bars and the soul stuff is the byproduct of the big man’s work, where a Teddy Riley production settled alongside the hardest of Premier beats without a single murmur of complaint. And that was during a time when Wreckx-N-Effect’s boys got vexed at Phife’s anti swing sentiments and EPMD were decrying R&B crossovers. Heavy helped make Puffy the man his is today, and Puff’s influence — regardless of your opinion of the Ciroc wielding ego — on pop culture as a whole is gargantuan.

Heavy D knew early on that there’s no such thing as selling out, provided that you do it right and that Sprite campaign pre-dates a slew of multi-national flirtations with hip-hop. Better that that, ‘Nike’ on the ‘Living Large’ LP in 1987 is an early ode swoosh with a Teddy Riley on co-operation that’s so shameless that Heavy even apologises at the end before angling for a promo deal. On the ‘Chunky But Funky’ cover, the Jordan IIs quantities are on the level of Heavy D’s scrawny opposites, the Skinny Boys. It’s a shame that one of the Boyz forgot his Italian-made classics on the morning of the shoot.

On a loosely related nostalgia note, Trevor Jackson and Richard XL’s live Ustream video construction of a UK rap mixtape the other day plus this 1986 DJ Mek footage of London Posse in Dublin as highlighted by the Hot As Balls crew brought back some memories of Mr. Jackson’s Bite It! work under the Underdog alias. Had his Playgroup album dropped in the MP3 blog era, the world would have collectively ejaculated tweet plaudits about it and the new generation of quasi-artistic MCs would hop on the productions for their Mediafire mixtapes. But the world wasn’t quite ready for that one and his Output imprint closed in 2006. Under his Underdog guise, Trevor dropped some bangers, at a time when the UK re-rub was a reason to skip a track. It’s interesting that he frequently downplays his musical ability at that time, indicating that treating the sonics the same way as graphic design, with a patchwork approach was the key to his sound.

While some Underdog work might have been lumped with the post-Muggs, THC-haze there’s an ambience and knack for psychedelia in the mix that could be fully appreciation when it was free from the distraction of comparison with beloved originals. On the Brotherhood’s ‘Elementalz’ it was out there. Some of the album might sound a little naive now, but the little gothic touches and lavish yet abstract art from Dave Mckean indicated that someone had taken their time putting it together in contrast to the graffiti fonts and barely Pentel tag fonts of rival British releases. It never set off a movement and as a nation, few lessons were learned and UK rap moaned and stagnated. Now the real appeal is in a hastily recorded road rap sound that’s too agitated to bother with lavish inlays.

This interview with Jackson is brutally honest at a time when many swagger around as one-man brands on a Klout score mission. He downplays a little too much of his work, but it’s clear that the graphic design and typography is still his first passion (check out Cynthia Rose’s ‘Design After Dark’ for some sleeve and clubland designs that typify the late ’80s to early ’90s, including some of Jackson’s Champion and Gee Street work). His site has a good cross section of his works so far, but Bite It!s street-level take on the Suzuki rhino and the attention lavished on some otherwise forgotten 12″s with Donald Christie’s photography.



Little Pauly Ryan EP’s been on here before, but it deserves a second appearance alongside Scientists of Sound and 100% Proof releases too. Who else was doing anything like that in 1992? He still works with Donald on video projects like this. That sloganeering should be memorable to ‘Phat’ readers too. I can’t help but think that that one-man, money’s-no-object (rarely the key to longevity in the recording industry) crusade against mediocrity deserves inspection from a wider audience as we champion some right old sh…actually, to honour Hev’s ‘Don’t Curse’ plea, it can get censored…shameless rubbish.

THE FADER’S EARLY DAYS & SOME OTHER STUFF

STAPLE IN PRINT

It’s good to see that the Reed Space’s ‘Reed Pages’ has reached issue one with a more substantial, perfect-bound offering than the launch edition issue zero all those years ago. I know I’m prone to assuming cancellation when follow-ups aren’t forthcoming, but almost two years is quite a gap. Just bear in mind that Mr. Staple is no stranger to printed matter.

It’s worth taking this moment to take it back to a time when you were still mildly optimistic about Rawkus releases, when Zab Judah was on the rise and Gravis Tarmacs (were they co-designed in any way by a pre-Visvim Hiroki?) were still a contender. ‘The Fader’ does an excellent job now on the music front, but in 2000 and 2001 it was a bible to me in my Bedford residence for matters of style too. I was more than happy to shell out around £6 an issue at the Piccadilly Circus branch of Tower Records in the hunt for this title and ‘Mass Appeal,’ ‘LODOWN’ or the lesser-spotted Transworld spinoff, ‘Stance’.’

These were pre-blog (shouts to the Mo’ Wax bulletin board massive, Spine Magazine, Rift Trooper and Being Hunted though) days, and if I saw an article I liked, it got memorized like rap album thank you’s. Jeff Ng’s contribution to the editorial side of early issues (the jeffstaple design was excellent too) gave us some English-language profiles of brands, product and people that had been confined to Japanese publications like ‘Boon’ and ‘Relax.’

It’s always nice to see the smart Supreme advertising that ‘The Fader’ carried, but Jeff’s 2001 Paul Mittleman and Hiroshi Fujiwara/Nike Japan profiles from issues #4 and #5 were very strong and resonated with me for some reason. The Hiroshi piece places plenty of emphasis on an innovative early ’00s boomtime—the Monotone collection white/green Terra Humara are something I’ve looked out for ever since in a US10 and the Air Max 120 remains underrated. Paul Mittleman’s recurring Arc’teryx coat and the shots of the never-bettered Dunk Lows (reissued next week) that built on his appearance in ‘Stance’ talking about the same shoe.

I spilt coffee on issue #4 of ‘The Fader’ and lost it when my mother culled my magazines left in her loft back in late 2002. Since then, I’ve been looking to read the Hiroshi article again (I’m sure that at one point it used to reside on its own http://www.fader.com/hiroshi URL). Then the homie Masta Lee at Patta saw my Tweeted plight and hooked me up with scans of the piece—props and praises to him for that act of kindness. Shouts to Jeff and the Fader for creating some essential content that resonated with an info-hungry freak like me.


UK RAP RENAISSANCE

Just because I think some folk need to deal with hip-hop’s progression doesn’t mean I feel some UK legends deserve to exist in a netherworld where their names are only uttered by the older generation during talk of the olden days. I think most of the current wave of UK hip-hop that’s broken through is still a crappy imitation of our American brethren, and while I appreciate that men rapping about demons over very fast Bomb Squad-style production isn’t going to cut it any more (maybe in some other parts of Europe, but not here), I love to see some of the old guard who made some classic LPs and reinterpreted rap on their own terms deserve some shine.

Take Hijack for instance—they had one of the best visual identities of any British band, but remained a cult favourite due to label politics—or MC Duke, or labels like Kold Sweat or Music of Life. There was a vitality to these names in their heyday and a sense that they’d go far to rep our nation at a point when hip-hop truly hit the mainstream circa 1991. Some are content to talk it up and simply recollect, some feel that they’ll give Giggs and Pro Green a run for their money at some point (still labouring under the misapprehension that their time is coming) and others entered a bigger industry and made a buck by taking off the blinkers and branching out. Respect to former HHC editor Andy Cowan for starting Original Dope—a label dedicated to reissuing old British hip-hop albums in remastered, repackaged and expanded form. Ruthless Rap Assassins, Blade and MC Duke fans should be delighted.

I remember the merchandise pages in Blues & Soul, HHC and several LP sleeves, but who was going to entrust their cash or postal order to some mysterious P.O. box address? I got my fingers burnt several times over the years, but I always wanted those mysterious tees and sweats that groups and labels promoted. Then there were the acts that should have had tees, but never did. What’s the solution? Officially licensed UK rap shirts from Style Warrior UK. Back in 2006 I spotted a MySpace for this UK label but missed out on a Hijack shirt…then I was outbid on eBay for it twice. Now it’s back—Overlord X, Son of Noise, Gunshot, M.C. Mell’o’, Music of Life (and there’s an excellent breakdown on their logo on the site), MC Duke, Silver Bullet, Kold Sweat are reliving their youth on cotton in a remarkably well-designed way, and there’s even two Hijack styles to pick from. The blog’s very good with some video links to the old ‘3rd Eye’ video magazine, talk of Stereo MCs and Cash Crew tees on the horizon and a history of the Demon Boyz logo too.

Today’s actually the cut-off for picking up the Hijack ‘Style Wars’ shirt. I assume there’s some rapidly aging fuckers like me who bug out at that kind of thing. It’s up there with the Japanese BBP licensed Showbiz & AG tees from five years ago in the very necessary stakes. Props to all involved.

JIM REDMOND: NIKEHEAD

Thinking about Nike endorsements, one of the most extensive one-man brand examples actually comes in the shape of an athlete’s father—Jim Redmond, the dad of Derek, who memorably accompanied his stricken son to the finishing line of the 400 metres in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. From the “Just Do It” hat to the Huarache t-shirt, socks and 180 running shoes, Jim was Nike down that day. I’m not 100% sure if the shorts were the brand’s own, but in late 2002 I bumped into him at an event and asked if he’d sell me the Huarache t-shirt. He laughed deeply and wandered off. I don’t think he realised that I was being serious.

NOSTALGIA OFFSETTING:

‘CONFESSIONS’

It’s no surprise that ‘Confessions’ (‘Kokuhaku’) has been nominated for a foreign-language film Oscar. It’s a unique, strange, overblown, almost operatic blast of human misery, but it’s also one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve seen in a long time. The entire film pretty much moves in a stylized slow-motion, but it doesn’t jar or de-humanise the hyper-emotive nature of the film. Best of all, it relies on certain facets of Japanese culture that would confer any attempts at a Western remake to failure status.

THE RIDE #5

I’ll confess—I have no interest in riding a bike at any time in the future. I lack coordination and live in a town where the roads simply don’t want to accommodate car and bicycle at the same time. It’s a democratic mode-of-transport though, and for some reason, that seems to breed great journalism. ‘Rouleur’ is awesome and ‘The Ride’ journal is good too—from the ilovedust covers to the 700 word stories and accounts of bike experiences, brief interviews and fine photography, it’s evidently a painstaking production. I can’t be arsed to take foot to peddle, but cycling is such a broad church—far more than Eras, rolled up Uniqlo chino legs and fixies – that it generates absorbing and eclectic reading matter. It’s available at Albam, Howies and some other spots right now. Anything with a piece on 1960s Eastern Bloc cycling artwork that adorned matchboxes is worth the expenditure, plus all profits go to charity. It actually makes me want to take a ride, and only the knowledge I’ll end up under the wheels of a bus within an hour discourages me…